The list of things to avoid buying in supermarkets is quite a long one, and the standards of different ethical labels are often hard to make out. It would be useful if food advertising was more honest; if labels truthfully read statements like: ‘eggs from hens whos’ miserable existence was spent in A4 sized cages’, ‘pigs reared chained by their feet in metal stalls’, ‘veal calf, driven to lick its own urine and the metal of its cage due to the thirst and hunger forced upon it’, ‘blue fin tuna: near extinction and fished by methods causing further danger of extinction to sharks, turtles…’ Unfortunately, I don’t think this kind of honesty in food labelling is going to come about any time soon, which means that ethical shopping really can be quite a struggle.
Far be it from me to make life any more difficult – yet recently another big ‘AVOID’ has caught my eye on Facebook; the group was ‘Save Scotland’s Seals From Being Killed’, and their campaign is precisely that. The group is run by volunteers from groups like Scotland Sea Shepherd, and Marine Concern, and is focused around a petition to end the Scottish seal cull. This year, the group states, the Scottish government has given permission for 1,000 seals to be shot and killed. This is done primarily by salmon farmers: Scotland is Europe’s second largest producer of farmed Atlantic Salmon and produces around 380 million pounds worth of the fish, annually.
The Seal Protection Action Group states that, although the Scottish government has sanctioned the killing of 1,000 seals for 2011, it estimates some 5,000 are actually killed each year. Conservationists are concerned that grey and common seal numbers are in rapid decline. 40% of the World’s grey seals are found in Britain’s waters, while 90% of their breeding grounds are around the Scottish coast. Many fish-friendly ethicists feel that purchasing farmed fish is morally dubious anyway: they eat five times their weight – in fish. Now, if you’re concerned by the over fishing of the oceans to feed humans, hopefully, fishing to feed farmed salmon seems nonsensical (the video on this link makes the point in a more colourful manner). But lets look past that fact momentarily and ask, is it right to cull seals merely because they harm our fish supply?
You might wish to call me sentimental and impractical if I state that I don’t think we have right to kill other animals, but I’m not going to leave the argument there. I accept that nature involves death and competition, and I understand that farmers, be they cattle or fish farmers, wish to protect their stock when it is threatened. One of the arguments that is often used against my ‘sentimentality’ is the ‘if you were starving…’ debate. This argument goes something like this: ‘if you were starving and the fish were all you had to eat you would protect them by killing the seals’. Yes, obviously if I was starving I would do that. In fact, if I was starving I would eat the seal first, and then turn my attention to the fish – but the fact is that we are not starving. This multi-million pound industry is shipping salmon to China, Norway, and putting enough fish on the table for us to eat one million salmon meals a day.
Apparently, one seal can kill up to near a thousand salmon if it managed to get into their cage. That is a large amount of damage to the stock – but it is nowhere near one-million-meals-a-day level damage. Also, the group Seal Scotland, claims that Anti-Predatory nets could be used instead of shooting seals. Considering the amount of money the salmon industry seems to be making, fitting seal-proof nets instead of killing seals seems reasonable to me. Why threaten a beautiful species, and biodiversity along with it, instead of investing in some decent quality protective nets?
This topic will continue to be a work in progress, as I have yet to find out which salmon brands are kosher and which ones are not, and have also not touched upon the issue of other anglers who kill seals to protect fish stocks. As for farmed salmon – well, its worth avoiding anyway due to the fishing crisis, but, if you are particularly concerned about the seal cull, it would be worth finding out where your fish comes from – and – if it is fished off Scotland, whether it is by a company that partakes or backs the cull of seals. Seals often seem to be scape-goated for dwindling fish stocks, they took the blame for the disappearance of cod off Newfoundland. Whether they deserve to really seems to be a question not even worth asking. So yes, sorry, another ethical investigation to consider, until labelling laws change and pictures of bloody seals are put on the boxes of fresh farmed salmon.